Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Trumpet of Tommy Dorsey

Tommy Dorsey's standing as a trombonist and bandleader is known to any fan of jazz and big band music. His work as a trumpet player, mainly in the late 20s isn't too widely known and is an amazing surprise to fans of his trombone work.
Both Tommy and brother Jimmy were taught trumpet first by their father Thomas Sr., a music teacher and concert bandsman. They eventually concentrated on trombone and reeds respectively.
Jimmy, himself played a fair horn and recorded a few times, his sound had a Bix Beiderbecke influence to it(Jimmy and Tommy worked and recorded with Bix frequently).
Tommy's trumpet sound came from the hot, driving influence of Louis Armstrong. Both Louis and Bix influenced countless musicians of the 20s.

Tommy gave us lots of fine jazz trombone recordings in the 20s, especially in the company of Bix, Phil Napolean, Paul Whiteman and his own bands co-led with Jimmy. As a trombonist one can hear the influence of Miff Mole and Bill Rank, two of the era's finest players. Right from the beginning Tommy had that beautiful, pure sound and remarkable control. That's why it's so unusual to hear his reckless, hell- bent- for leather trumpeting.

The first recorded example of Tommy's trumpet comes on a Paul Whiteman recording of Aug. 1927, It Won't be Long Now. Both Tommy and Jimmy were recent additions to the Whiteman Orchestra (Bix and Frank Trumbauer would join up in late Oct.).
On this DeSylva-Brown-Henderson pop tune, Bing Crosby and the Rhythm Boys and Jimmy are also heard. Tommy takes an opening spot on trombone then returns for some brief but effective trumpet spots with straight mute. The Louis influence is there and Tommy delivers a hot coda to the recording. If one didn't know that it was Tommy, the solo could have been taken for any fine hot jazzman of the era.

On the many Okeh Dorsey Bros. recordings of the late 20s, Tommy occasionly took a trumpet solo. One of his best is on My Melancholy Baby (4/24/28) . Tommy belts out a Loui-ish verse and takes a solo reprieve later in the tune. His solo on Forgetting You has also been singled out as a stellar hot chorus.
Tommy recorded two sessions for Okeh featuring his trumpet with rhythm accompaniment. The first on 11/10/28 featured Artie Schutt on harmonium, Jim Williams,bass, Eddie Lang,guitar and Stan King on drums. It's Right here for You and Tiger Rag showcase his hot,slashing horn much under the Armstrong spell. The verse to It's Right Here is played pretty and Tommy gets in a hot double time passage. The session of 4/23/29 billed as Tom Dorsey and his Novelty Orch. have Lang, King and pianist Frank Signorelli. You Can't Cheat a Cheater and Daddy Change your Mind contain more standout Dorsey horn.

Another exellent example of Tommy's trumpet work is on the Cotton Pickers session of 3/27/29 and 5/16/29. This was a Brunswick studio group usually made up of members of Phil Napolean's Memphis Five. Along with Tommy and Jimmy are Schutt, King, Joe Tarto on bass, Perry Botkin,banjo and Glenn Miller,trombone. The first session features two takes of Rampart St. Blues (one with a vocal). Tommy's lead and short solos are solid and Glenn Miller shows what a fine trombonist he was,with shades of Miff Mole and Bill Rank. St. Louis Gal has a pretty opening solo by Tommy, reminicent of Joe Smith. The doubletime finale allows him a wailing rideout. Kansas City Kitty is also a solid side with fine solos by all hands. Hoagy Carmichael may be one of the vocalists on this session.
The May session has Carl Kress,guitar, Signorelli,piano and the popular vocalist Dick Robertson.
No Parking (a Napolean original) is a lively, stomping instrumental. Tommy shows off some fast fingering a la Red Nichols. Sweet Ida Joy is a pleasant side with Dick's vocal and Tommy playing a sweeter lead horn. An exellent session, not only for Tommy's trumpet but for the underated Miller trombone.

Tommy's hottest trumpet work came on an Eddie Lang date for Okeh on 5/28/29. Along with Tommy on trombone and trumpet were Jimmy, Schutt,Lang,Tarto,King and Leo McConville,an exellent but underated Bix-like cornetist. (all the band members were frequent colleagues of Red Nichols). Freeze and Melt, an early Jimmy McHugh tune has Tommy on trombone only and features fine solos including a rolling,Bix-ish one by McConville. On Bugle Call Rag, Tommy starts out on trombone but switches to trumpet for the outchorus. He lets off a few slashing breaks,then joins McConville for a driving outchorus with some of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings passages uses as a riff. Jimmy is also inspired with some throbbing high notes over the band. The highlight of the session is Hot Heels, a Lang original with minor key solos in the style of Louis' King of the Zulus and Tight Like That. Tommy is really into his Louis bag here with a classic solo building up to some impressive high notes. (the solo also reminds one of the gifted but eccentric trumpeter Jack Purvis). Jimmy also gets in a hot clarinet chorus going up high ,too before the band rides home. Tommy's horn work here shows a hard blowing Armstrong disciple and certainly stands on it's own merits, even if one was unaware of his briliance as a trombonist.
By the way, Tommy's trombone on Freeze is exellent too, with shades of Miff Mole, one of his idols.

An intriguing session that may have Tommy on trumpet is the Blind Willie Dunn Gin Bottle Four date of 4/30/29 for Okeh. Dunn was a pseudonym for Eddie Lang who added the great bluesman Lonnie Johnson on guitar along with J,C, Johnson,piano and a drummer some credit as Hoagy Carmichael (and perhaps vocalist,too). King Oliver has been suggested as cornetist and it sounds like him, but Tommy has also been mentioned as a possibility. The two sides, Jet Black Blues and Blue Blood Blues have fine Johnson guitar and humorous percussion (including some close mike jaw pounding!). I think the cornet is Oliver, but Tommy was certainly capable of playing in this style. Tommy also played trumpet on a Seger Ellis Okeh date of Feb. 1930. He contributes a Louis-ish muted spot to Should I? with a "Dippermouth Blues" quote. Eddie Lang's great rhythm guitar is also a highlight.

Tommy continued to double on trumpet occasionly. He and Jimmy did some trumpet doubling with the Dorsey Bros. band of 1934-5. (the band had just one regular trumpet). Sometimes with his own band, he would like to grab a horn from the trumpet section and get a few kicks with a solo or two. The last recording of Tommy on trumpet is with his Big Band on a pop tune of June 1,1939,Back to Back. Tommy takes a driving straight mute solo up front, sounding a bit like Yank Lawson who was in his trumpet section at the time. It's the last recorded evidence of Tommy's trumpet work.

Tommy's trumpet work, different as night and day from his trombone shows another side of his musical genius, along with his love of Louis Armstrong and hot jazz. Although a capable jazzman on trombone, Tommy got to let his hair down as a trumpeter and explore a rougher, hotter side of his playing. The fact that he was doing this as a bit of a lark gave him that freedom and abandon that he couldn't attain as a trombonist. It's a fascinating aspect of one of our greatest musicians.

Is it gonna Be Long? and Back to Back can be heard on Youtube.
My Melancholy Baby and other early Dorsey Bros. sides are on Vol. 1 of The Old Masters series on the brothers.
The Hot Heels and Willie Dunn session is on the Classics Eddie Lang collection.
The TD trumpet solos are part of Stringing the Blues on Koch Records.
The Cotton Pickers session is on a Timeless Phil Napolean CD.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas with Louis Armstrong

One of the great tragedies in recording history is that Louis Armstrong never got to make a full Christmas album. Louis embodied all the joys, warmth and sacred beauty of the season.

Pops loved Christmas- one of the most famous stories is his fascination with a Christmas tree that his wife Lucille brought on tour. Louis insisted the tree stay up long after the season was over. I'm sure that Louis played many Christmas requests in person, but none seem to have been recorded. We do have some lovely singles Louis recorded for Decca along with a few other seasonal songs. This post will celebrate these joyous Christmas offerings.

Louis' earliest Christmas recording is the Clarence Williams Blue Five session of Oct. 1925 at Okeh records.He recorded two versions of Santa Claus Blues a tune written by Chicago bandleader Charlie Straight and Gus Kahn. On Oct. 8 the full band backs up vocalist Eva Taylor in a spirited version. Louis is already experimenting with the higher register of the horn and Buster Bailey on soprano is impressive thruout. (he would join Louis' All Stars in 1965). On the 16th Louis accompanied Clarence, Eva and Clarence Todd's vocal in a slow version of the tune with just Williams' piano and Buddy Christian on banjo. Louis' phrasing is typical of the wonderful blues accompaniments he took part in during this period.

We fast forward to September 22,1952 and a studio session at Decca records. Louis is backed by the studio band and arrangements of Gordon Jenkins. Jenkins was an unabashed admirer of Pops and created lovely and inspired commercial charts for Louis. Recorded at the session were the seasonal favorites White Christmas and Winter Wonderland. Louis doesn't play on these selections but his vocals are especially warm and well recorded. The vocal on White Christmas is fairly straight backed by Jenkins' lovely string writing. On Winter Wonderland Louis has a beautiful scat coda and Marty Napolean gives us some one finger piano melody (a Jenkins trademark). Napolean, Arvell Shaw(bass), Cozy Cole(drums) and Bob McCracken(clarinet) were members of Louis' All Stars of the time. (they augment the studio players). A lovely example of Pops'ability to combine simplicity with virtuosity.

The next Christmas session for Pops was on Oct. 22,1953 at Decca again. Backing Louis was the Commanders, a popular swing band led by drummer Ed Grady and here using an all star studio lineup including Billy Butterfield, Lou Mc Garity, Cutty Cutshall, Hymie Schertzer, Al Klink, Bernie Leighton and Carmen Mastren. The band had a brassy sound to it with 3 trumpets and 4 trombones, the charts were by Toots Camarata( he had backed up Louis with Jimmy Dorsey's band in 1936). The Christmas songs recorded were two novelties, 'Zat You,Santa Claus? and Cool Yule (written by Steve Allen).

'Zat You is a fun minor key novelty in the style of Old Man Mose and Skeleton in the Closet.There are some fun sound effects simulating the cold wind and knocking on Louis' cabin. Louis has a lot of fun and the band swings hard Cool Yule swings along in shuffle rhythm and another homage to Santa.There are cute lyrics including Santa taking a lick on a peppermint stick. Louis gets in some trumpet too and wails for a half chorus in great style, his stop time stuff on the bridge is classic Pops.This entire session had great Louis horn and vocals and Camarata's fine charts and a great studio band(that big bone section is very prominent on Yule) put the tunes over in fine style.

The next Christmas recording was back at Decca on Sept. 8, 1955 with a solid studio band arranged and conducted by the great Benny Carter. Louis' regular band (Trummy Young, Barney Bigard, Billy Kyle, Arvell Shaw and Barrett Deems) were also part of the studio band.
The two Christmas selections were Christmas in New Orleans (a novelty written for the session) and a Raymond Scott favorite Christmas Night in Harlem.
New Orleans is a cute novelty with Pops' having fun talking about a Basin St. Santa (the tune is a bit of a Basin St. clone)and barefoot choir, he also gets in a solid trumpet solo. Carter's charts are well crafted and swinging, as is his custom. Harlem (a Jack Teagarden-Johnny Mercer favorite) swings nicely with Louis getting in some great scat and a burnished,swinging horn solo. Trummy and Barney can he heard getting in some licks.
Also recorded at the session was Moments to Remember, a current hit for the Four Lads. It's popped up on some of Louis' Christmas compilations due to it's opening New Year's line. It's a lovely tune and Pops' vocal and horn are backed up by a pretty Carter arrangement.

We have to wait until may 26, 1970 for the next Christmas tune. While recording the Flying Dutchman lp Louis and his Friends, the selection Here's My Heart for Christmas was recorded for use as a single. The tune was written by George Weiss (composer of What a Wonderful World) and gets a tender reading from Louis with nice backing by James Spaulding(flute) and Frank Owens(piano). Oliver Nelson was the arranger/conductor. Louis was recuperating from a fatal illness and does not play trumpet on the session.

Louis' last studio recording was a delightful reading of The Night Before Christmas. Pops recorded the poem in his home studio on Feb. 26,1971. Although his health was still shaky, Louis was back to playing trumpet and in the midst of his last engagement.
Although there's no singing or trumpet, Pops' narrative is delightful and swings in it's own way. His 1938 Decca recordings of Elder Eatmore's Sermons show his talent as a monologist. He gets in some of his own phrases and personal touches. (he dedicates the reading to "all the kids").
The poem was released as a single by Continental Records backed by a version of The Saints from the 1968 BBC TV show issued on Brunswick. This is a lovely and charming coda to Louis' recording career. Some versions of the poem dubbed in some irritating music behind Louis.
There is also a nice version of Pops and the All-Stars playing Auld Lang Syne from a New Years' Eve broadcast of 1954 at the Down Beat in San Francisco. Louis plays the perennial with his beautiful solemn lead, it's nice to have this version. Another seasonal song that gets packaged in Louis' Christmas compilations is his duet with Velma Middleton on Baby, It's Cold Outside. This was a fun routine that wasn't recoded commercially but exists on many live releases.

The 6 Decca sides are available on the Hip-O CD, What a Wonderful Christmas. Along with Louis there are single sides by Louis Jordan, Peggy Lee, Lionel Hampton, Mel Torme, Lena Horne, Duke Ellington, Eartha Kitt and Dinah Washington. It makes for nice Holiday listening.
The budget Laserlight label offers Christmas through the Years and includes Santa Claus Blues, Baby It's Cold, Nite before Christmas , Zat You and some non-Christmas sides by Louis.
Louis' great Verve duet with Ella Fitzgerald on I've got my Love to Keep me Warm has popped up on Music Choice TV a lot and most of the sides can be heard on Youtube.

Everyday is Christmas when you watch or listen to Louis Armstrong's music.
Happy Holidays from Pete Kelly's Blog.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Louis Armstrong: Thanks a Million/Thankful

With Thanksgiving a few days away, this is a perfect time to review two timely classics from Louis Armstrong's golden Decca period.

These wonderful sides of 1935-46 are now available from Mosaic records, I first encountered them on a wonderful Decca lp, Rare Items in the late 60s. At that time the Decca big band sides had been pretty much ignored. The Rare Items lp along with Dan Morgenstern's consumate liner notes helped to bring this prolific period of Pops to the jazz public. When Louis signed with Decca in 1935, he was leading the Luis Russell band and would continue to into the 40s. The band was full of many of Pops' New Orleans pals such as Albert Nicholas, Red Allen, Pops Foster, Paul Barbarin and Russell himself. Other standout players included Charlie Holmes, J.C. Higginbottom, Jimmy Archey and the great Sid Catlett (one of Louis' favorite drummers).

Louis' own playing and singing had reached a maturity combined with his earlier virtuoso side. This combination gave us some of Pops' most sublime sides, but he could still give the listener shivers with his uncanny phrasing and mastery of the trumpet's high register. His singing on ballads revealed that mellow crooning approach he started in the early 30s. These two sides are perfect examples of this type of playing.

Thanks a Million by Arthur Johnston and Gus Kahn comes from a 1935 Dick Powell film of the same name. Also featured were Fred Allen and Paul Whiteman's Orch. including the Teagarden Bros. and Frank Trumbauer.(Whiteman recorded his version for Victor in July '35) The tune was also recorded by Jimmy Rushing and was a favorite of Ruby Braff and Bobby Hackett. Bobby performed it at the 1970 Newport Salute to Satchmo.

Thankful by Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin doesn't seem to have come from a film or show. I don't think anyone else has recorded it since Louis. Now on to Pops' beautiful renditions of the tunes.

Thanks a Million (12/18/35) No intro, Louis comes right in with his crisply burnished sound and a lovely exposition of the melody (nobody could caress a melody like Pops). On the second half chorus Louis goes up high but still keeps the serene mood.The band brings Pops into his vocal and sounds a bit ragged, it took the Russell band a while to click with Louis but they eventually became a crack backup band. Louis' tender, crooning vocal is backed by nice Russell piano, Pops throws in a "mama" and Russell modulates into Louis' last half chorus. This ending is full of his majestic, operatic sound with the classic high note ending. Great Stuff!
An alternate take exists and shows subtle variations on Pops' opening chorus. The vocal is still mellow and Russell's piano spots equally nice. When Louis starts his vocal you can hear him clear his throat. The ending is equally impressive. A nice contrast.

Thankful (5/18/36) The band sounds so much better and the intro is solid and clean. Louis' vocal is backed by nice horn figures. This vocal like Thanks a Million is very pretty and well recorded. Pops gets a few low scat figures in, the bridge is very attractive with it's descending line. Pops Foster's bass is also very solid thruout. The band modulates to some very inspired horn by Pops. His burnished tone finds time for some lovely passing figures and he really digs in with some impressive double time figures over band stops on the bridge. The last half chorus has Pops riding over the band with great authority and nicely placed high notes leading to another classic operatic finale. A Beautiful Performance!

We can be so "Thankful" that Louis Armstrong came along to change the course of American Music and give us countless musical gems such as the above selections. They are part of the excellent Mosaic Decca Collection-MD7-243.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bobby Hackett with Tommy Dorsey's Clambake 7 (1950)

The wonderful Cornet (and/or trumpet) of Bobby Hackett has been heard in many unique and varied settings over his musical career. Bobby was not only a master jazzmen but one of the greatest lyrical players of all time, who fit perfectly into more commercial and easy listening sessions. (see our earlier post-Bix session 1940).
This date in April of 1950 with Tommy Dorsey is an interesting footnote to his many outstanding jazz sessions.

Tommy had been using the Clambake Seven as a Dixieland alternative to his Big Band.(a la Bob Crosby's Bob Cats) The bulk of the band's sides were made between 1935-9. In the 40s Tommy only used the band on a 1946 date and it was more of a swing session. For this 1950 date, Tommy used an all star group, not players from his current big band. Tommy was nearing the end of his Victor contract and perhaps wanted to have some fun on this date. The results are top notch jazz and some stellar Hackett horn. First a bit about the lineup.

Tommy had solidified himself as one of the country's top bandleaders and he was one of the most brilliant trombonists of the era. He was a capable dixieland player as shown here. (on a future post we'll explore his Hot trumpet work of the 20s).

Bobby , who started out as a guitarist was playing better than ever. His earlier work with Eddie Condon, his own Big Band and Glenn Miller showed a gifted and lyrical improviser who was sometimes handicapped by poor embrochure. By 1950 he had studied his horn more and was playing stronger without losing his lyrical gifts.

Peanuts Hucko, clarinet had paid his dues with the Will Bradley and Charlie Spivak bands and became the star clarinetist with Glenn Miller's Air Force band. His Goodman influenced horn would grace the bands of Eddie Condon, Louis Armstrong and even Lawrence Welk in the early 70s.

Arthur Rollini, brother of Adrian was another big band veteran best known for his mid 30s stint with Benny Goodman. By 1950 he was doing a lot of studio work and his tenor work here, a cross between Eddie Miller and Bud Freeman is a highlight.

Gene Schroeder, piano was another Condon regular and later worked with the Dukes of Dixieland. He was a consumate pro with his own take on the Jess Stacy style of piano.

Jack Lesberg,bass was a solid pro comfortable in classical or jazz settings. He worked frequently with Condon, Hackett and Louis Armstrong. His solid bass workhighlights a strong rhythm section.

Buzzy Drootin from Boston was a solid timekeeper and another Condon favorite who also worked frequently with Bobby and fellow Bostonian Ruby Braff.
Now on to the music.

Way Down Yonder in New Orleans. The old Henry Creamer-Turner Layton classic gets a spirited reading by the Clambakers. A nice arranged intro using the lead notes of the melody and a rolling Hackett break take us into the band chorus. The tenor sax gives the band a sound similar to the Bob Cats and Summa Cum Laude band. Bobby also has some nice breaks on the ensemble. Rollini's tenor solo reminds one of Nick Caizza of the Muggsy Spanier Ragtimers. Bobby's solo is a gem of beautifully cascading phrases perfectly placed. Peanuts follows in his BG mode with the horns riffing behind him. A modulation takes us to the last half chorus reprised by the band with Bobby throwing off some Bix like octave rips and he takes a final break over the coda. A great side.

Original Dixieland One-Step- A classic ODJB composition, the opening ensemble uses the traditional routine with Bobby executing a nice break midway. Peanuts' swinging clarinet splits with Schroeder's tasty piano spot. Bobby's solo is full of melodic runs over the changes leading to Rollini's mellow half-chorus. The band stuts home for the last half with the patented 2 beat ending. (The last chorus band reprieve is the only predictable spot of the session).

Bright Eyes is the surprise tune of the session. It's the title tune of Shirley Temple's first film (written by Richard Whiting and Sidney Clare). The tune was pretty much forgotten in 1950 (Louis Prima recorded it in '34). Taken at a medium dance tempo the band opens with an arranged intro with shades of the In the Mood theme. The first chorus is relaxed with nice horn voicings. Tommy steps out for a chorus of the theme with arranged horn backup. He doesn't play high as usual but stays in the horn's middle register. Peanuts picks up the next chorus for a pretty spot with Bobby taking the second half with his lovely, flowing ideas. The band rides us home with Buzzy getting in a break before the coda. This is a tune that deserves to be heard more.

Tiger Rag- Another ODJB composition gets the Clambake treatment. T.D. slides us into the traditional first chorus with nice breaks for Peanuts. On the second strain Tommy handles the tailgate breaks and handles the Tiger smears on the chorus with Peanuts getting in a break. Boby's lead here is strong and swinging. Gene takes the first solo with his Stacy-like runs with Peanuts picking up for more BG like clarinet. Bobby's in great form with a Cirribiribin -like opening and Rollini finishes up with some Bud Freeman-ish tenor. The band swings the last half, Buzzy takes the tag and Bobby gets in some of his patented riffs on the coda.
The session is a terrific example of dixieland played by top pros and some of Hackett's finest playing in this idiom.

This session has bounced around a lot over the years, never being issued complete. As a kid, I had a Camden EP 45 of Bright Eyes and Dixie One-Step (the flip side had 2 Dorsey big band pops). Way Down Yonder popped up on a Camden lp, The One and Only Tommy Dorsey. In the late 70s, RCA issued a 2 lp Clambake 7 set with Dixie One-Step and Way Down Yonder included. Tiger Rag was only issued on 78. A recent Hep CD from England-Tommy Dorsey, It's Delovely features the late 40s band includes Way Down Yonder and Dixie One-Step. The Classics label has been issuing all the Dorsey Big Band sides and may get to the complete session.

Whatever way you get this session, you'll be in for some great jazz and another important footnote to the prolific recording career of the great Bobby Hackett.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Stooge Stalwarts: Emil Sitka

This series of posts will celebrate the many contributions of the great supporting actors who worked for the Columbia Shorts Dept. and especially with the Three Stooges. Many of these players were comedy veterans going back to the silent studios of Keystone and Hal Roach; others were relative newcomers who got their chance to shine at Columbia.

One such player was Emil Sitka (1914-98), a talented and versatile actor who graced many Columbia shorts and became one of the Stooges' regulars. Emil's first Stooge short, Half Wits Holiday (1947) was Curly's last and he worked with Shemp, Joe Besser and Joe DeRita and just missed becoming a member of the team in the 1970s. (Moe and Larry, of course, were the constants).The photo shows the "Stooges that almost were"-Moe, Joe DeRita and Emil in 1975.

Emil was adept at a variety of roles. He could play character parts of his own age and then turn around and play mad scientists and old codgers with make-up and wavy white hair. He also had a great elastic voice that put over his various characters.

Emil (of Lithuanian descent) grew up in the Pittsburgh area of Pennsylvania. He came from a catholic backround and got his early acting experience in local passion plays. During the depression he worked his way to Los Angeles where he worked as a laborer. He continued his acting in local theatre productions and got rave reviews for his performances. A talent scout from Columbia saw him in such a production and recommended him to Jules White, head of the Columbia shorts.

Emil's "audition" with White consisted of his reading some lines from a beat up Charley Chase script. Despite the rather unplanned reading Emil scored points with White and in 1946 he debuted in a Vera Vague comedy, Hiss and Yell.

Although best known for his Stooge roles, Emil worked in most of the Columbia comedy series including Hugh Herbert, Andy Clyde, Shemp Howard, Schilling and Lane, Vernon and Quillan and all of the Harry Von Zell comedies. (This series although currently unavailable has gotten high marks by comedy fans.) Emil's comedies with these players weren't available for review, so we'll concentrate on his many superior Stooge shorts.

Emil's first Stooges short, Half Wit's Holiday, gave him the part of Sneffington the butler. He has some fun byplay with the boys and is a key player in the film's climatic pie fight. He's great as he hands a dowager her drink and gets pasted, politely excusing himself.

During the Shemp era (1947-55), Emil really came into his own with many classic roles. Probably his best remembered is as Justice of the Peace, J.M. Benton in Brideless Groom (1947). In the film Moe and Larry try to marry off voice instructor Shemp to collect an inheritance. The only candidate is homely student Fanny Dunklemeir (Dee Green). The boys and Shemp are all set to be married by Emil when a gang of Shemp's previous invitees show up after hearing of Shemp's windfall. A wild brawl ensues with justice Benton on the end of much of the mayhew. The final straw is when Emil gets a bird cage off the head. With his whiny voice, professor glasses and classic line of "hold hands-you lovebirds" Emil almost steals the show from the Stooges (not an easy task).

Another 1947 release , All Gummed Up features the first of Emil's many "old codger' roles. He plays Mr. Flint, owner of the drug store where the boys work. The boys come up with a miracle serum that makes old people young. Flint goes wild when he sees what the drug does to wife Christine McIntyre (first lady of Stoogedom). The ensuing results with Emil trying the same serum are predictably hilarious. Although only in his thirties at the time, Emil's voice and makeup make him a perfect"codger", a role he would repeat many times. (By the way-this film was remade as Bubble Trouble(1953) a common practice at Columbia).

1949 saw Emil in two of his classic roles. Who Done It? is one of the best Shemp comedies. The boys play detectives summoned to the Goodrich estate. Mr. Goodrich (Emil) has dissapeared and his neice and a group of crooks are out to get his money. The film is a classic Stooge "scare" comedy and Emil as "Old Man Goodrich" has some hilarious moments. With his wavy white hair and whiny voice, Emil makes the perfect "old man". His reappearance later in the film as a Corpus is a hoot. Also neat is his regaling to the Stooges of his "torture"-they tied me to a chair and made me listen to singing commercials!
Vagabond Loafers has the boys as plumbers working at a swanky part hostee by the Norfleets (Emil and Symona Boniface-one of the Stooges' favorite dowagers). Art theives Kenneth MacDonald and Christine McIntyre try to steal the Norfleets' Van Brocklin painting only to be foiled by the Stooges. Emil is in the middle of much mayhem by the boys but somehow keeps a straight face thruout. The film is a reworking of A Plumbing We Will Go , a classic Curly short. It was in turn remade as Scheming Schemers(1956) -(see our post "Case of the Fake Shemp). With the many Stooge remakes in the 50s ,Emil was frequently called back to shoot some new scenes and even asked to dye his hair or lose a few pounds to match earlier stock footage. Another 1949 release, Fuelin' Around featured Emil in another "mad scientist " role. He played Prof. Sneed, inventor of a super rocket fuel. Larry is mistaken for him ("that magnificent head of hair") and captured by spies from the State of Anemia. Emil's role is pretty straight but it's always fun to see him in professor/scientist mode.

1950's Three Hams on Rye had Emil in a terrific character part as B.K. Doaks, a very off Broadway producer who employs the Stooges as stagehands and part time actors. His reactions to the boys' antics is classic. When the Stooges seem to ruin the play's finale ,it turns out to be a comedic success and Emil is lauded for his genius as a talent scout!
Scrambled Brains (1951) gave Emil a tried and true bit as a doctor (complete with coke bottle glasses) examining Shemp and hearing a "ma-ma" doll every time he uses his stethescope on Shemp! Hula-La-La (1951-see our earlier post) has Emil as studio boss Mr. Baines who sends the boys to a South Sea island to give the natives dance lessons. He tells the boys not to fall down on the job and gives us the expected pratfall when he misses his chair!

Gents in a Jam (1952) has one of Emil's greatest performances showing his mastery of verbal and physical humor. He plays Shemp's wealthy Uncle Phineas (back to the old man makeup) who has come for a visit. The boys think Uncle Phineas will bail them out of their back rent. Along the way they get caught up with a new neighbor, strongman Rocky Dugan (Mickey Simpson) and his wife. When the wife winds up in an uncompromising situation the slapstick reaches it's nadir! At one point Emil is bumped by all the Stooges, Rocky and for good measure gets Mrs. Dugan's high heel in the kisser! It turns out that the boys' mean landlady is Phineas' old sweetheart and so goes the boys' windfall and their health as Rocky tears out after them! Emil's whiny voice and great physical bumps are highlights of a classic short.

These are some of Emil's standout shorts. He had many small character parts and cameos during the Stooge series. Being a consumate pro he made the best of any part including reporters, butlers, chefs, military men or just friends of the boys. As we mentioned, the constant use of stock footage gave Emil repeat showings in Stooge films along with new sequences in the remakes. Stone Age Romeos(1955) was a clever remake of I'm a Monkey's Uncle (1948) with the boys as cavemen. In the new footage the boys show museum curator B. Bopper (Emil) their footage of "early man". (the scenes from the earlier film). The new scenes are clever and match up nicely with the original.

During his time at Columbia Emil also did freelance work in other films. He pops up in several Bowery Boys films of the 50s, usually in small cameos. Director Ed Bernds and writer Elwood Ullman worked on quite a few of the Bowery Boys films of the period using many Stooge-like situations and gags. In Private Eyes (1953) sequences from the Stooges' Monkey Businessmen (1946) are used. A sanitarium scene with Emil as a wheelchair ridden patient is reworked. Emil's short but sweet spot is a highlight of the film.

When Shemp Howard passed on in 1955, his place was taken by veteran comic Joe Besser. Emil continued with the series in a variety of amusing roles.His meatiest role of the period was in Outer Space Jitters (1957) once again reprising his mad scientist role. As Prof. Jones ,Emil and the boys land on the planet Zunev and contend with the evil Grand Zilch (Gene Roth) , High Mucky Muck (Phil VanZandt) and Goon (a pre- Bonanza Dan Blocker). This is one of the best of the Besser series. (see our separate post on the film).

When the Stooges shorts ended in 1958 , Emil continued working with the boys in features and other projects. Joe DeRita had come aboard as third Stooge. He was a Burlesque veteran who had a short-lived series of his own at Columbia. Emil can be seen in The Three Stooges meet Hercules (1962) in two cameos , in Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze (1963) as a butler and The Outlaws is Coming (1965) in three roles. His biggest role was in 3 Stooges in Orbit (1962) reprising his mad scientist role as Prof. Danforth. Much of the earlier footage was taken from a TV pilot titled 3 Stooges Scrapbook with Emil in the same role. His wide eyed, whiny voiced professor was hilarious as ever and he develops a cartoon technique for the boys.
Speaking of cartoons, in 1965 the Stooges starred in their own cartoon series featuring their own voices and also appearing in 40 live action wrap arounds. These segments usually reprised old tried and true routines and Emil popped up in several as the boys' foil. The last Stooge film, Kook's Tour (1970) featured the boys as retired Stooges enjoying a vacation. Emil appeared via stock footage (from In a Daze) in the film's prologue.

On a personal note, Emil was married to Donna Driscoll from the 1940s to the 60s. He remarried in the 70s to longtime girlfriend Edith Weber who died in 1981. Emil had 4 daughters and 2 sons. Despite his success as an actor, he always worked a daytime job.Besides his work with Columbia and the Stooges he appeared in many feature films and TV shows from the 50s to 1970.

When Larry Fine took a stroke during the filming of Kook's Tour it looked like the Stooges' amazing run had come to an end. However in the early 70s an independant film project wanted the Stooges for a guest spot. With Larry's blessing, Emil was recruited to be the "3rd Stooge". This project quickly fizzled out but in 1975 another independent comedy called Blazing Stewardesses was produced with a role for this new Stooge combination. Emil was to play Larry's brother Harry and Emil spoke of him as being "consientious to the point of rediculousness." Promo pictures were shot of Moe, Joe and "Harry" (see cover shot) but that was as far as things got. Moe soon took ill and eventually passed on.- the Stooges' roles went to the Ritz Bros.(Larry died in Jan.1975 with Moe following him in May). It would have been fun to see Emil as a Stooge with his years of experience with the team and as a comic actor, I'm sure he would have made a great Stooge.

Emil kept busy in his later years, making many appearances at Stooge conventions and on several Stooge TV tributes .In 1986 he wrote the forward to the exellent reference book, The Columbia Comedy Shorts by Ted Okuda and Ed Watz.This book is must reading for fans of the Stooges and Columbia comedies.He also appeared in a 1986 comedy, The XYZ Murders.His last film was The Nutt House in 1992.
In June of 1997 Emil suffered a stroke and passed on in Jan. 1998. On his gravestone read his most famous line- "Hold Hands, You Lovebirds".

Emil's son Saxon has an exellent website at , another good site is The Fourth Stooge. All of his work with the Stooges is available on the Sony Three Stooges collection (Vol. 5-8). Here's hoping that his non-Stooge Columbia shorts will surface. What I've seen of the other Columbia series are wonderful and deserve to be enjoyed.
We hope this post will bring much overdue appreciation to this comic genius.

Till next time- Keep Stooging!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Forgotten Heroes of the Big Band Era: The Ozzie Nelson Orchestra

The name Ozzie Nelson is mostly remembered from his long running radio and TV series, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and sons David and Ricky.However, Ozzie had a very successful musical career of his own and led a very musical band which could swing with the best of them.
The Nelson band which also featured Ozzie's wife Harriet Hilliard on vocals hit it's stride in the late 30s and early 40s. This post will hope to bring some well-deserved attention to this fine band.

Ozzie was born in Jersey City, N.J. in 1906. He was a star athlete and honor student at Rutgers. He was studying to be a lawyer, but his work as a singer and saxophonist proved to enticing and in the late 2os he formed a dance band. The band's success came quickly. In 1930 it began recording for Brunswick and was the first band to open the Glen Island Casino, where many of the nation's top band's made their reputation.
Harriet Hilliard (1909-94) was an attractive singer and vaudeville performer when Ozzie hired her as vocalist.She also appeared solo in several films including Follow the Fleet (1936). They married in 1935 and Harriet's solo vocals and duets with Ozzie were highlights of their programs. The early Nelson band was a pleasant dance band, but by the mid-30s it had developed a crisp swinging style and boasted some fine soloists. This version of the band will be highlighted in this post.

Two of the stalwarts of the band were saxophonist Charlie Bubeck and trumpeter Bo Ashford. Bubeck(a charter member of the band) played alto but specialized on baritone. He had a huge,full sound (he used a bass sax reed on his baritone) and was a good jazz player. His baritone gave the Nelson band it's trademark. The great Harry Carney admired the playing of Bubeck-high praise from the master of the baritone. Ashford, formerly with Casa Loma joined up around 1934. He played a pleasant Bix-like horn and was heavily featured on the band's swing tunes. The celebrated trombonist Abe Lincoln was with the band from 1934-7 and lent his fine jazz trombone work to the Nelson recordings. Elmer Smithers , also a capable jazzman (who worked with Tommy Dorsey and Bob Crosby) handled the trombone work after Lincoln's departure.

The band is well represented on record with Brunswick (1930-3 and 34-6), Vocalion (33-4), Bluebird (37-41) and Victor (41). An old Bandstand lp gave a good cross section of the band's swing style.
Two 1935 sides, Swamp Fire and Solioquoy have an earlier band sound (shades of Casa Loma and Isham Jones) with tuba still present. The old stock favorite Swamp Fire swings politely with good solos, Solioquoy is primarily ensemble, but nicely played (this was a Rube Bloom composition, also recorded by Duke Ellington). The 1936-9 period has many fine sides. Streamline Strut has Bubeck's baritone very present and good trombone (Lincoln?). Ashford's trumpet has some Louis-ish effects and there is nice tenor and ensemble work. There's also a bit of Sid Brokow's hot fiddle (he also doubled saxophone).
Two Larry Clinton favorites ,Whoa Babe and Satan takes a Holiday get swinging treatments. On Whoa, Ashford and Lincoln take nice spots and Bubeck's bari gives the band an Edgar Hayes feel (see our earlier post on him). There are nice dynamics on the out chorus. Satan was well covered by other bands (T.Dorsey, Clinton, Hayes) and the Nelson version is a good one. Ashford states the theme and gets a hot solo along with Lincoln and Bubeck way down low on bari.

The Wayne King favorite, Josephine gets a polite but swinging version. Ashford and Smithers split the melody and Ozzie takes a half-talking vocal, ala Ted Lewis. There's more exellent Bubeck and a good rideout. Queen Isabella another favorite of the day shows the band's light but swinging sound. The opening ensemble has a neat voicing of solo trumpet and reeds. Ashford is polite but gets in some nice rolling licks ( ala Nichols or Secrest) , there's good trombone by Smithers(an underated player) and Bubeck plays off the band not unlike Harry Carney with Duke. The Sheik of Araby has opening melody by bari and an arranged dixie passage. Ashford gets a couple of good Bixish rips and Smithers follows. The outchorus has a nice passage of reed melody with Loui-ish brass backing them. One of the band's best sides. Maple Leaf Rag is played at a nice medium tempo with short solo spots for Bubeck and Ashford and a standout ensemble rideout. Stompin' at the Stadium (1938), also rcorded by T.Dorsey and Bob Crosby is a nice instumental with Asford in his Nichols bag, Smithers and an especially good Bubeck spot.

There are some nice vocal features by Ozzie and Harriet from this period. Says my Heart was a popular Nelson side of the time with a pleasant Harriet vocal and nice solo spots for Bubeck and Ashford. That Sly Old Gentleman shows off the band's sweet side with a nice Harriet vocal and pretty trumpet-A good dance side. Jerome Kern's The Folks who Live on the Hill makes a charming duet for Ozzie and Harriet. Ozzie was good on rhythm novelties, sounding a bit like Dick Robertson. Yes Suh! has some good Ozzie vocalizing answered by the band along with two hot Ashford spots,Smithers and our boy Bubeck on the rideout. I'm Breaking my Back (Putting up a Front for You) is another cute Ozzie/Harriet duet. When Harriet was on maternity leave, Rose Ann Stevens deputised. She and Ozzie have fun with The Man who Comes Around, supported by a band vocal and some cornball comedy. The best novelty however also takes the cake for title - I'm Looking for a Guy who plays Alto and Baritone(Doubles on Clarinet and Wears a Size 38 Suit). In this Lament, Ozzie gives us the perennial problem of a Bandleader in need of a sideman and Rose Ann gives the Female view in romantic pursuit of said sideman.

The swinging Nelson band of 1940-2 is nicely showcased on an old Hindsight lp.The cuts are fairly short, made for radio play. Here are some highlights. This band is larger and hits harder than the earlier unit. Most of the tracks are pure swing, but there are still some pleasant dance and vocal specialties. Ashford and Bubeck are still heavily featured, but there are some new soloists including two tenor men, one similar to Eddie Miller and the other more rough-hewn. There are some growl trumpet spots played by another trumpeter(not Ashford).
Jersey Bounce shows the brassier and more dynamic Nelson band. Charlie Bubeck's baritone is still very present. Moonlight Cocktail and Autumn Serenade, two popular dance hits show off the band's mellow sound with an Eddie Miller-like tenor on Moonlight and on Autumn, nice spots by alto,tenor and Don Ferris' piano. There is also a nice brass soli.
Harriet sings a pleasant vocal on Everyone But Me with nice clarinets and bones behind the vocal. Another swing favorite Idaho gets a nice swing with a Charlie Barnet styled tenor and a solid trombone soli. Somebody Else is Taking my Place is taken at a solid medium tempo with clean swinging saxes. Ozzie gives us a pleasant vocal followed by a trombone soli, Asford's horn and Bubeck on the rideout. Sir Walter's Serenade (also recorded commercially) is an easy swing riff a la Tuxedo Junction or Miller's Spirit is Willing. Ashford's trumpet is in a pleasant Red Nichols groove and there is a good growl trumpet spot. The low reeds led by Bubeck highlight the rideout.

I Don't want to Set the World on Fire was a big 1941 hit for Tommy Tucker. The Nelson version is on the sweet side with Wayne King style alto and an Ozzie/Harriet duet. Strictly Instrumental is a cover of a Lunceford/H. James hit. with more swinging tenor and a nice trumpet spot(not Ashford). Breathless ( also rec. by Shep Fields) is a cute novelty with Ozzie and Harriet sharing the tongue twisting lyric and some fun byplay with Charlie Bubeck. Jersey Jive and Central Ave. Shuffle were also recorded commercially. Jersey has a standout solo by Ashford (very melodic), some more Bubeck and nice dynamics on the rideout with good drum kicks. Central Ave. is another simple riff with more of the Eddie Miller tenor , Ashford with more Nichols-like horn, growl trumpet and boogie woogie piano. The Jimmy Dorsey hit, Tangerine gets a nice medium ride with melodic Ashford and more of thar unknown Miller styled tenor man. Broad Jump is a hard hitting riff with a nice trombone spot (Gus Mayhew?) . Cutting Classes has some forceful tenor a la Georgie Auld, a brash trumpet spot, clarinet and good interlay between brass and reeds. The piano spot is Basie influenced. Texas Jump is another Basieish riff (similar changes to Lady Be Good). There's more growl trumpet, Basie piano and a swinging rideout with Bubeck's bari up front. These sides show how much the band had grown musically and can swing with the best of them.

The Nelson band also appeared in several movies including Sweetheart of the Campus (1941), Strictly in the Groove (1942), Honeymoon Lodge (1943) and Take it Big (1944). At the moment, these films are not available for review. An early 40s soundie shows the band playing their version of Somebody Else is Taking my Place. The band swings strongly as they did on the transcription with Ashford and Bubeck very visible. By 1944 Ozzie decided to concentrate on his popular radio series with Harriet and the band was dissolved.
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet became a huge hit on radio and transferred to TV in 1952. Sons David and Ricky joined the TV series and Ricky became a popular pop singer of the late 50s and early 60s. Ozzie became an astute businessman. Not only did he produce and direct the TV series, but he produced the hit TV series Our Miss Brooks and guided Ricky in his solo career.
When the series ended in 1966, Ozzie and Harriet guested on other TV shows and did regional theatre. They had a short lived series in 1973 called Ozzie's Girls where the Nelsons rent David and Ricky's rooms to two college girls. Ozzie passed on in 1975 and Harriet in 1994.

For those who only remember Ozzie Nelson as a mild mannered sitcom Dad, the Ozzie Nelson Band will come as a pleasant surprise. It provided top dance music and surprisingly swinging sides to the great Big Band Era. The work of Bo Ashford and Charlie Bubeck also deserve more hearings.

Till next time- Keep Swinging!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Three Stooges: Merry Mavericks (1951)

Continuing our never ending chronicles of the Three Stooges is an exellent Shemp short, Merry Mavericks (1951). This short was written and directed by Ed Bernds, one of the boys' favorite and most accomplished writer/directors. This short is unusual in that it combines a comedy/western with spook/scare comedy, one of the Stooges' best and surefire gimmicks. As a matter of fact, this film has some of the boys' best Nnnnaahhs-their vocal reaction to spooks and scary goings-on. The boys also made numerous comedy westerns, it was one of their most popular premises.

The first half of the film is a reworking of a Curly short, Phony Express (1943).Some stock footage is used including a WANTED poster of the boys, this time with Shemp's photo in place of Curly's.
We get the bonus of seeing Bank President Victor Travers( a very underated member of the Stooges' stock company ) once again get pasted with Ink from a stray bullet- complete with his great groan. The plot is essentially the same as Phony Express. The boys have been palmed off as 3 tough Marshalls coming to "clean" up the town. They tangle with Red Morgan's gang, meet Clarence Cassidy, a somewhat inept cowboy and spend a night in a spooky house guarding the bank's money.

The supporting cast includes Don Harvey, a B movie/serial veteran as Morgan. Marian Martin(Gladys), a popular female foil with credits at Columbia and with the Marx Bros. She has the "Bad Girl" role, apparently Christine McIntyre was busy. (she exelled in all character roles). Also along for the ride is John Merton as one of Red's boys. He was a perennial heavy in many Stooge shorts of the 30s and 40s. Stooge stalwart Emil Sitka has a too short role as a jailer. Paul Campbell gets the Cassidy role. This part was obviously a take off on Jock Mahoney's Arizona Kid. Campbell looks and speaks quite a bit like Mahoney, it appears to be his only Columbia short. Like Mahoney's Kid, Cassidy comes off tough but never is any help to the Stooges.

The comic sequences mainly take place in the saloon and at the creepy Horton place. Many of the original Phony Express gags are used at Morgan's saloon. It's fun to see Morgan and Co. trying to butter up the Stooges when they think they're tough "marshalls". Shemp gets to show off his fancy dancing with Gladys , followed by the old "cutting in" routine with Moe and Shemp dancing. Also reprised is Moe's spur getting Morgan in the rear. The Morgan gang turns nasty when they find the Stooges old Vagrancy poster. A comic fight ensues with the Stooges winning and Cassidy coming in too late with his mock bravado.

Once things move to the Horton place we get the usual "scare" situations which the Stooges were masters of. Morgan and gang try to scare the boys away with spook masks and cloaks. The "ghost" of the headless Indian chief also comes after the boys. Columbia got a lot of mileage out of those scare outfits. They were used in numerous Stooge shorts and those of Hugh Herbert, Andy Clyde and other Columbia comics.
There are loads of Nnnaahhs as the boys kep running into ghosts and spooks. All the Stooges were masters at these frightened yelps, but Larry uncorks a doozy when running into a cloaked ghost. There's also more Columbia" chicanery" as the boys' screams are constanly heard on the soundtrack even as we see individual Stooges featured.

There are many great verbal gags including Larry's definition of Vagrancy- "You take a flower and it smells good, that's Vagrancy." When Moe tells him it's a hobo or tramp, Shemp adds "we can't beat that rap". When Larry tells Moe he's "apprehensive", Moe asks for it's meaning-Larry's reply is "scared with a college education". Shemp has many great lines. When he tries to wiggle out of the Indian costume his retort is-"Now I know how a frankfurter feels". At the film's wrapup he threatens Gladys with "Get goin' sister or I'll knock your brains out!". When Moe tells him that's no way to treat a lady, Shemp removes his hat and repeats the threat as Moe responds "That's better".

Shemp saves the day when he switches places with the Headless Chief and saves Moe and Larry from Morgan and the gang. His Indian response is Ungawa!, the old all-purpose Tarzan term. Shemp could always be counted on with his own bits of business and "Classic Puss"-A true comedy great.
Cassidy arrives again too late to help but passes out when he sees a trickle of blood on Morgan!
The short closes with the old bit "Moe, what do we do with the girl?- throw her to the dogs" as Shemp and Larry howl and bark to fadeout.

Merry Mavericks is a fast moving and greatly entertaining short made during Shemp's salad years with the team. It is available on Vol. 6 of Sony's Complete 3 Stooges Collection.
Some scenes were filmed with the boys as dentists in a western town and were planned for Merry Mavericks, but used in their next short, The Tooth Will Out.

Till next time, Keep Stooging!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wingy Manone- Dinner for the Duchess (1940)

Joseph "Wingy" Manone (1900-82) was one of the great characters of traditional jazz. Wingy, a New Orleans native played a rough and ready style of trumpeting and vocalising highly influenced by Louis Armstrong.

Like fellow New Orleans trumpeter Louis Prima, he included humor and entertainment as part of his jazz presentations. Wingy lost his right arm in an accident while still a youngster. He learned to play trumpet with a prothesis arm that didn't detract from his proficiency. Wingy learned his trade with many territiry bands of the 20s and 30s. By 1934, he had started a long and succesful series of small band recordings that were in the style and feel of those of Red Allen, Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton .where rotating jazz greats supported Wingy's horn and vocals on jazz standards and pop tunes of the day.

The early Manone sessions were issued on various labels such as Banner, Vocalion and Columbia. By 1936, Wingy's sessions were recorded for the Bluebird label. The session of August 6, 1940 recorded in Hollywood has an interesting mixture of tunes and personnel.
Wingy was working on the film Rhythm on the River with Bing Crosby. (he was a frequent guest on Bing's radio shows).He had a good role as musician/sidekick to Bing. His band in the film also featured Bing's old Rhythm Boys partner, Harry Barris. Two of the tunes from the movie were recorded at this session which had Wingy backed up by some fine Hollywood studio men.

The band featured Bill Covey on clarinet, he had worked with Gus Arnheim and Spud Murphy.
Babe Bowman on trombone was primarily a studio man(he was on Artie Shaw's Frenesi session).
Pianist Stan Wrightsman would become a much indemand player for trad and swing dates around Los Angeles. He had already recorded with Santo Pecora, Spike Jones, Shaw (the Frenesi session) and was with Seger Ellis' band for a time. The other men, Bill Jones (bass), Dick Cornell (drums) and Russell Soule (guitar) were all studio players.

Rhythm on the River and Ain't it a Shame about Mame were from the film written by Johnnie Burke and Jim Monaco. In the film River gets a great treatment by Bing backed by Wingy's band. In the scene, Bing is bailing out the Manone band's instruments at a hock shop. Bing shows off some fancy work with drumsticks. (he started his musical career as a drummer).
Wingy's version starts with a Loui-ish intro over sustained chords into the ensemble with a crisp lead by Wingy. Cornell gets off nice rim shots and cymbal splashes thruout. Stan leads into Wingy's happy vocal. Covey gets a nice tangy clarinet spot followed by an arranged riff chorus and the descending riff used in the movie as a coda.

Mame, sung in the film by Mary Martin with the Manone band is an interesting major to minor pop tune with a rhumba passage as a bridge. The opening ensemble is again crisp, Wingy always played solid, swinging leads. Stan brings in Wingy's vocal. He does a nice job navigating the tricky melody. Covey gives us more solid clarinet followed by a band reprieve of the rhumba. The rideout has solid Wingy with a Louis-ish coda followed by a vocal coda with nice guitar chording.
A lovely side!

Dinner for the Duchess(Dale-Kaye) is the highlight of the session. The opening and closing has Wingy playing a catchy horn riff. He tells one of the boys that" he's blowin' for the Duchess."
The band plays a neat arranged blues riff leading into Wingy's vocal full of referances to food and jazz that please the "Duchess". The solos have Wingy's great comments (like Fats Waller, he a master at this). Covey has another reedy, driving solo. (this man played fine clarinet). Bowman gets off a nice percussive solo with some Jack Jenney touches. Stan's piano is very Bob Zurke-ish and gets a choice mention from Wingy. The swinging out chorus features some of Wingy's Up the Country licks( a favorite blues) and back to the trumpet coda. A minor classic!

When I Get You Alone (McCarthy-Goodwin-Fisher) is a simple but pleasant pop. It has a folk or cowboy feel to it. (not unlike some of vocalist Dick Robertson's Decca sides). After a band chorus Wingy gives us a fun vocal assisted by bassist Jones. (we assume so because the bass is silent during the comments). Covey and Bowman split a chorus (nice lip trills on trombone) and Stan has a nice stride solo a la Zurke. Wingy leads the band home with a nice repeated riff (shades of Dippermouth Blues).

This session is just one of many great Manone small band treats of 1934-41. Wingy continued recording thruout the 40s and 50s. He made albums for Decca, Roulette and Imperial and worked frequently in LasVegas. He made an appearance at the Newport Fest of 1966 (recorded by RCA) and toured Europe with Papa Bue's fine Danish band in the 60s. One of his last filmed appearances shows him with Toronto's Climax Jazz Band in 1976. (this has been on YouTube). Wingy is still full of fun and bows some nice horn passages. He left us in 1982.

The August 1940 session is available on Classics 1091 (Wingy 1940-44).
Till next time, keep Swinging and Winging!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Forgotten Heroes of the Big Band Era: The early Vaughn Monroe Orchestra

Vaughn Monroe(1911-73) was one of the most prominent personalities of the Big Band era. With his good looks and booming baritone, he made quite an impression. However, his band never got the credit it deserved, especially the early edition of 1940-2 , the subject of this post. First, some backround on Mr. Monroe.

Vaughn was born in Akron, Ohio but raised in Cudahy, Wisconsin. He became a proficient trumpeter and despite ambitions for an operatic career, concentrated on dance band work as trumpeter and vocalist. He broke in with the Austin Wylie Orchestra in the early 30s followed by the Larry Funk band with whom he made his first recordings in 1934. In the late 30s Vaughn worked with the Boston band of Jack Marshard, also a succesful booker. Marshard realized that Vaughn had the potential to be a top-flight leader and helped him put together his first band in 1940. Also in 1940, Vaughn married his high school sweetheart, Marian Baughman. They had two daughters, Candace and Christina.

The early Monroe band spent a lot of time in the New England area and boasted many fine players from that area. Key men were Bobby Nichols (trumpet), only 18 at the time but already a mature jazz player. Trombonists Joe Connie(an uncle of baseball great Tony Conigliaro) and Art Dedrick (a succesful stock arranger). In the sax section were Andy Bagni, an exellent lead alto, Frank Levinea good hot tenor in the Tex Beneke style and Ziggy Talent (tenor) who became a top attraction with the band with his comedy and novelty vocals. Another saxist, Johnny Turnbull also sang with the band. Pianist Arnold Ross was a fine jazz soloist and arranger who later made a name for himself. The female vocalist, Marilyn Duke a tall attractive brunnete, was a superb singer with a nice jazz flair reminicent of Mildred Bailey and Lee Wiley. Much of the early Monroe book was arranged by Johnny Watson, who had given the Jan Savitt Band much of it's succesful The Monroe band spent most of it's break-in time of 1940 in the New England area. During 1941 it began playing more national venues and gaing popularity. The band's 1940-2 Bluebird recordings have many fine moments. Here are some highlights.

On August 19, 1940 Vaughn recorded There I Go, one of his earliest vocal hits. This was a nice dance chart with a pretty alto spot by Andy Bagni. At the same session the old Allan Jones showpiece Donkey Serenade got the Monroe treatment. (Artie Shaw also had a great record of it). Vaughn's vocal is straight , without being melodramatic and the band swings nicely. Drummer Hy Levinson gets in some nice tom-tom licks. A good introduction to the swinging side of Vaughn Monroe.

On Dec.9,1940 Jerome Kern's classic, The Last Time I Saw Paris was waxed. This is an exellent chart with nice woodwinds on the intro and crisp muted brass on the theme. Vaughn gets in another pleasant vocal. (he would later get more boomy and dramatic). The band picks up the vocal with a swinging rideout and nice Levine tenor spot on the bridge.

The session of Jan. 13, 1941 saw three exellent swing sides cut. The old favorite Dardanella is given a pleasant swing treatment by Watson. A tasty alto spot opens and closes the side. Along the way we get Miller-like reeds and a Berigan-ish trumpet spot by young Nichols. Vaughn joined the trumpet section on a lot of these early sides. Take it, Jackson , a Watson original became one of Vaughn's most durable instumentals. A simple riff is offset by band vocal chant with solos by Nichols(in a Harry James bag), Levine and pianist Saul Skersey.Another oldie, There'll Be Some Changes Made is a delightful chart with an opening dixieland chorus leading to one of Marilyn Duke'svocals. She had a nice jazz feel and gives us some Lee Wiley-ish vocal glisses. (nice sax figures and piano under her). Bobby Nichols takes over for a hot half-chorus before Miss Duke reprises her vocal. A Wonderful Side!

On February 17, 1941 Vaughn recorded his famous theme, Racing with the Moon. He would re-record it many times thru the years. Also waxed was a cute duet by Vaughn and Marilyn, Requestfully Yours. The intro has shades of Jimmie Lunceford. (many of the early sidesare on a Lunceford kick). This is a good swinger with crisp band work and solo spots by Levine and Nichols. Miss Duke is especially solid on this track. She was a very underated singer. A solid riff instrumental Clam Chowder was also cut that day. (many of the Monroe titles had New England referances). G'Bye Now (3/31/41) is a medium swinger with another pleasant Duke vocal and Nichols trumpet. The Jimmy Dorsey hit Yours was covered on April 21. Vaughn later recorded a solo vocal but here it's Miss Duke's number. We get a differant verse and some nice trombones on a pleasant dance chart.

Arnold Ross had joined the band in the spring of 1941 and his piano and aranging talent would be a great addition to the band. On June 30, 1941 the band cut Love Me a Little (a pleasant tune also recorded by Artie Shaw with Lena Horne). Another Lunceford-ish intro brings on muted brass and reds for the theme. Another nice Duke vocal is folowed by a band rideout. Also cut that day was one of Ziggy Talent's best novelties Sam, You Made the Pants Too Long. When he relaxed he sounded a lot like Tony Pastor. He tended to overdo the comedy and freak notes. (he had a very elastic vocal range). Ziggy's just fine here with solid band backup and nice fills by Ross. One-Two-Three O'Lairy (8/15/41), another novelty has a cute Vaughn-Marilyn duet. (Vaughn wasn't a jazz singer ,but sounded fine when not going for the operatic sound). There are more Lunceford touches of staccato brass, Ross' piano and Nichols. Doodle-La-Do-Da is another novelty but shows the band at it's swinging best! The band chants the nonsense vocal with a nice bridge by Marilyn (in her Lee Wiley mode). We also get a chase by Bagni and Levine and solid brass figures. Ross gets in a neat piano spot and there are good drum breaks for swing veteran Harry Jaeger before the band gives us a swinging rideout.

On October 17, 1941 the band cut Tune Town Shuffle (also recorded by Count Basie). The intro is similar to Lunceford's Blue Heaven and the simple riff is played by the saxes with brass on the release. Levine is in his Tex/ Georgie Auld bag and Ross gets in a tasty solo. A baritone sax can be heard in the section. Tica-Ti(11/24/41) is a novelty in the style of TiPi Tin with a cute Duke vocal with band comments and a swinging ensemble. Pretty Little Busybody (12/18/41) is a pleasant medium tempo chart with a vocal duet by Marilyn and bassist Jack Fay. The saxes are especially good here.

1942 brought the band even more popularity and the band sounded better than ever. The January 15 session gave us Honey Dear an exellent side with more of the Lunceford influence. Bobby Nichols' trumpet spot is very Berigan-like and Miss Duke's vocal is solid with nice jazz glisses (Ross' piano fills are also tasty). Levine also has a good tenor spot.
Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing in a Hurry was a big hit for Helen O'Connell with JImmy Dorsey. The Monroe version features Ziggy Talent at his best. He sounds like a cross between Pastor and Prima and the band swings nicely thru several tempo changes. Ziggy hits one of his frak notes at the end. He could be a bit over the top. Check out his I Can't Dance from the 1944 film Meet the People. It opens the film and is pretty manic. (like Jerry Lewis with too much caffein). On February 24, the band cut one of their most popular instrumentals, Commodore Clipper (named in honor of the Commodore Hotel where the band was appearing). The Monroe-Watson original is based on the Lady Be Good changes and features nice muted Nichols, Levine a la Tex and Ross. Vaughn would revive this number several times.

In early 1942, Ray Conniff brought his trombone and arranging talents to the band. His Coming Out Party (3/11/42) is a solid riff with more of the Lunceford sound and good bones and saxes. There is an interlude similar to Sy Oliver's in Swanee River and high trumpets and tom-toms backed by the full band. Ross contributes a fine solo and the bones take the coda. All I Need is You (4/7/42) is a pretty dance chart with a lovely Duke vocal. The trombone intro and coda (a la Jack Jenney)quote a popular Monroe tune, I Ask the Stars. Vaughn also began doubling on trombone during this time.

Also worth mentioning are several titles taken from broadcasts. Harvard Square (another New England based riff) is similar to For Dancers Only and has a band vocal chant. The brass have solid staccatto phrases ( a favorite Lunceford device) and Ross and Levine get in solo spots. There's a nice drum brak before the theme reprise. The old Earle Hagen alto specialty ,Harlem Nocturne gets a great reading by Bagni who had become a top leadman. Boston Rocker is another swinging instumental. The theme sounds a bit like Hot Lips or Four or Five Times. There is nice muted brass, spots by Levine, Ross and a trumpeter (probably not Nichols). Ross' piano is very tasty in a Nat Cole style and the band has a solid rideout.

As Vaughn's vocals became more popular, the band 's specialties became less and less. Vaughn loved to feature instrumentals but the vocals would really put him over. The band carried on thru the 40s, adding a string section. Finally in 1953, Vaughn broke up the band, although he would still reform it for special occasions. The early Monroe band recieved so-so reviews. George Simon of Metronome was impressed with Vaughn, Duke, Talent and some of the soloists but felt the band was no more than a territorial favorite. Down Beat was more receptive and had many favorable reviews and print ads of the band. The 1940-2 Bluebird and Victor sides show a nicely swinging band with fine soloists and a greatly underated singer in Miss Duke. This band deserves a bigger chapter in the annals of Big Band history.

Vaughn dabbled in many aspects of entertainment in the 50s including acting in a couple of westerns and three TV series. His show of 1950-1 also had old buddy Ziggy Talent. Another variety show followed in 1954-5 and Air Time '57 featured Vaughn and Bobby Hackett's combo. He really hit it big as a spokesman for RCA Products in the 50s. He also had an interest in a Framingham,Mass. club, The Meadows (he occasionally appeared there).
In 1958, Vaughn made an exellent lp for RCA, There I Sing/Swing it Again in which he reprised many of his hits with a top-flight studio band. Arrangements were by Irv Kostal and Bill Stegmeyer. (we caught Billy Butterfield's horn on several tracks. )There are four instrumentals, Take it, Jackson, Commodore Clipper, Cape Cod Clambake(by Stegmeyer) and a new Boston Rocker by Kostal. The band is topnotch, I think it's the same house band that recorded under the leadership of Butterfield, Urbie Green and Peanuts Hucko.

Vaughn also appeared with a studio band on the 1960 TV special, The Swinging Singing Years and on a 1965 syndicated series, The Big Bands. On this show he did his hits plus instrumentals of Take it, Jackson and Cape Cod Clambake. Vaughn even joined the band occasionally on valve-trombone. He also led bands at Disneyland on ocasion. Vaughn's marvelous musical career ended with his death in May of 1973.

Although known as a vocalist and dynamic personality, Vaughn made a big contibution to those swinging years with his first band of 1940-2. The Old Moon Racer could really Swing!

CDs etc. There was an excellent import of the early band called Requestfully Yours. You could try Ebay or World's Records. The 1958 lp is available on Collector's Choice CDs and some of the instrumental sides have popped up on Best Of LPs. The Franklin Mint lp series on Big Bands had a side of early Monroe that is worth searching for.
The 1960 and 1965 TV shows were available on VHS. They may have made the transfer To DVD (try a search). Meet the People shows up on Turner Movie Classics occasionly.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Lee Castle: Trumpet King of the Castle

The Big Band era produced many outstanding instrumental and jazz soloists. Many of the star sidemen became household names, themselves and many went on to be succesful bandleaders in their own right.

Such was the case with trumpeter Lee Castle (1915-90). Lee was an outstanding trumpeter comfortable in swing and dixieland settings and heavily influenced by Louis Armstrong. (what trumpeter of the era wasn't?) He worked for most of the major Big Band leaders (Shaw, Dorsey, Goodman, Miller, etc.) and is best known for his long stint as leader of the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra. Lee was also a fine jazzman with a pure tone and driving approach to jazz. He knew his Louis and even wrote an exellent transcription of Louis' solos. This post will celebrate his illustrious career and landmark recordings.

Lee Aniello Castaldo was born in the Bronx and was inspired to study trumpet after hearing a Louis Armstrong record. Sound familiar? His brother, Charlie, also became a professional trombonist. By his teens he was working with local bands, the earlist being Paul Tremaine and Paul Bartell. In July of 1936 Lee made his first recordings with the Joe Haymes Orchestra. Haymes was an outstanding arranger and this band was made up of young, promising swing stars. On Haymes' adventurous chart of St. Louis Blues, Lee takes a nice middle register solo with a quote from Louis' Savoy Blues (the Pops influence was already present). On That's a Plenty, Lee takes a solid chorus and leads the dixieland ensemble. These short solos show an already mature jazz trumpeter.

After a short stint with saxophonist Dick Stabile, Lee joined Artie Shaw's band in the summer of 1936. This first edition of the Shaw band featured 2 trumpets, trombone, Artie's clarinet, Tony Pastor on tenor and a string quartet. It was a very musical band but didn't take off. Lee can be heard playing lead on Sugar Foot Stomp and Sobbin' Blues along with a nice open horn spot on Let's Call a Heart a Heart. Lee stayed with Shaw until July, 1937 then went with Red Norvo for a few months (no recordings).

In September of 1937, Lee began his long association with Tommy Dorsey.He would be with Dorsey on and off until early 1939 (and back for a short stint from Dec. 1939- Feb. 1940). He even spent a few months at the Dorsey farm in Pennsylvania studying with Tommy's dad, a respected brass teacher. Lee played mostly section work with Dorsey (Pee Wee Erwin and Yank Lawson were the primary jazz soloists during his stint) , although he took a respectable jazz chorus Dorsey's recording of I Never Knew in 1938. After a brief stint with Glenn Miller in early '39 (no recordings but some broadcasts may exist) , Lee joined Jack Teagarden's new swing band from April to December of 1939.

Jack had just finished a five year contract with Paul Whiteman and was eager to join the ranks of swing band leaders. Jack's big band never caught on with the public but this early edition was the finest Teagarden band. Trumpeter Charlie Spivak was a partner in the band and played lead. Lee handled the jazz solos ( young trumpeter Karl Garvin also played a few). Lee's Louis/Berigan like horn can be heard on Red Wing (a Bob Crosby styled chart), Wolverine Blues ,Beale St. Blues and Muddy River Blues to name a few. While with Jack, Lee took part in a memorable recording session that showcased his jazz abilities.

On June 26, 1939 Lee sat in with organist Glenn Hardman's Hammond Five. Hardman was a popular organist whose attempts at jazz are a bit muddy, however he brought along some of Count Basie's best men. Lester Young played tenor and added his lovely clarinet work along with rhythm men Freddie Green on guitar and Jo Jones on drums. Lee was a last minute replacement for Buck Clayton who had a strange mishap during a tryst with a married lady!
Whoever thought of Lee is not known, but he acquits himself admirarily and gives us inspired lead work and solos.
On China Boy, Lee's straight mute lead is strong and he gets in a fleet solo. The band does a walk-off retard for nice effect. Exactly like You has nice cup mute lead by Lee and a strong out chorus. Sunny Side of the Street has more Louis-ish open lead. Upright Organ Blues (how they got that one by the recording execs is amazing!) has a great 2 chorus spot by Lee with some Louis phrases right out of the Hot 5 and a classic rideout. Who has more cup mute and some nice playing with the time(another Louis device) plus a hot rideout. The old Bix classic, Jazz Me Blues gets a Scottish intro by Hardman and pretty lead by Lee, on the 2nd chorus he gets in some neat breaks. Hardman closes with a Turkey-in-the Straw quote. Lester of course is a tower of strength on tenor and his wispy, poetic clarinet is a delight. A very musical and fun session.

Lee was back with Tommy Dorsey briefly from Dec. '39- Feb. 1940, then he made the first of several trys with his own big band. Lee's fine playing, good looks and excellent musicianship made him a fine leader, but his bands of the 40s never caught on despite good reviews. (probably too much competition from Louis, Harry James, Charlie Spivak and Randy Brooks). In early 1941 he joined the excellent band of Will Bradley (co-led with Ray McKinley). Lee didn't get too many recorded solos but is very prominent on a dixieland combo called the 6 Texas Hot Dogs playing Basin St. Boogie. (Will and clarinetist Mahlon Clark are also featured). Lee gets in a gutty muted solo with quotes from Louis' Mahogany Hall Stomp. Lee also has a short solo on the full band version of When You and I were Young,Maggie.
In the summer of 1941, Lee re-joined Artie Shaw who had put together another exciting band. Hot Lips Page was the primary jazz soloist in the band, but Lee and Max Kaminsky got their share of blowing on live dates. Lee stayed with Shaw until March of 1942. After a short stint with Charlie Spivak he led his own band again. This Castle band made a few sides for Musicraft and V Disc(available on Youtube), but are hard to find. The Youtube track of Uptown Express(a majot to minor riff) shows what a swinging band Lee fronted. He gets a real Harry James feel here and also spots good tenor and clarinet solos. Lee even joins his drummer for a Sing,Sing-like duet-hopefully more sides will surface.In late 1942, Lee joined Benny Goodman for a year. The recording ban was on at this time, but Lee can be seen and heard with Benny in the film Stage Door Canteen and takes a hot solo on Bugle Call Rag. Lee was also with Benny in the film, The Gang's All Here.
This edition of the Goodman band also included Lee's brother Charlie on trombone, Jess Stacy, Louis Bellson, Miff Mole and Joe Rushton (bass sax). There are some broadcasts by the band , mostly on old lps.

During the rest of the 40s, Lee led his own bands and did some studio work. He also did some dixieland work. (he was a fine player in the traditional style). In 1950 he was back with Artie Shaw for a short stint. He was on some of Shaw's Decca sides of the time, including a Gramercy 5 session (not available for review). In 1953 Lee rejoined Tommy Dorsey who would soon be joined by brother Jimmy to revive the Dorsey Bros, band-it was actually billed as Tommy Dorsey and his Orch. featuring Jimmy Dorsey. Lee was a key player as trumpeter and assistant conductor. (he was very adept at conducting a band). The Dorsey band recorded several albums for Bell and Columbia at this time, along with many broadcasts from the Cafe Rouge and Statler Hotel. Charlie Shavers took most of the jazz solos, however Lee was always called upon for dixieland passages and occasional jazz solos. When the brothers started their Stage Show TV series(a replacement show for Jackie Gleason), Lee was very evident. Some clips have surfaced over the years. On Let's Have a Party, vocalists Lynn Roberts and Tommy Mercer are featured along with a swinging dixie chorus by Lee and the brothers. While Tommy and Jimmy talk to the audience Lee can be seen wearing headphones and conducting the band. (some of these clips are on Youtube).In 1954 Lee made a dixieland lp for the Jay Dee label (obviously sponsored by Jimmy with Lou McGarity, Peanuts Hucko, Dick Cary, Bob Haggart and George Wettling. (not available for review).

In 1955, Lee made a great session with Ray McKinley for the Grand Award label. Also present were Peanuts Hicko (clarinet and tenor), Deane Kincaide (baritone and tenor), Mickey Crane (piano), Trigger Alpert(bass) and Ray on drums and vocals. There are some nice arranged intros and interludes probably by Kincaide, an ace arranger. Ray's vocalizing is featured on Scrub me Mama (from the Will Bradley days), Hard Hearted Hannah ( a big hit for his own band), Cow Cow Boogie and Jeepers Creepers with a nice scat intro by Ray in tribute to Louis. The band also plays Royal Garden Blues and Sugar Foot Stomp. Lee's playing thruout is hot and driving. He handles the traditional King Oliver solo on Sugar Foot and also does some nice blowing behind Ray's vocals. Kincaide's baritone is also very strong and he trades some tenor fours with Hucko on Jeepers. A nice session- unfortunately long out of print.

Lee continued with the Dorseys, Tommy passed on in Nov. 1956 and Jimmy, ill with cancer tried to carry on with Lee's help. Jimmy had a surprise hit with So Rare in 1957. He had recorded three other titles for Fraternity Records ,but by the time an album was planned had passed on in June 1957. Lee finished the sessions in June with the Dorsey band. His old boss Dick Stabile was brought in to play four alto features ( he sounded a lot like Jimmy). Another old boss, Will Bradley sat in on the sessions and was featured on Speak Low. Many of the charts were from the last book of the Dorseys. Just Swingin', an Ernie Wilkins chart and Jay Dee's Boogie (a slightly altered version of Tommy's version) are highlights. Lee has some solo spots on Maria Elena, Amapola and Speak Low. The album was eventually released on Dot records. Lee also made some more dixieland sides for the small Joe Davis label in Jan. 1957. (long out of print).

Lee also played on four titles of a Miff Mole session for Steffany Records in 1958 (later reissued on Jazzology). Miff was still playing fine trombone and had old Memphis 5 colleagues ,Jimmy Lytell(clarinet), Frank Signorelli(piano) and Chauncey Morehouse (drums) aboard, along with Jack Lesberg on bass. A later session had Jack Palmer (trumpet) and Joe Dixon (clarinet). The tunes are For Me and My Gal, Exactly like You, Original Dixieland One-Step and a nice Mole original Dreaming by the River(recorded by several New Orleans bands). Lee's work thruout is crisp and driving with plenty of the Louis influence. There are some clever arranged passages and at times Lee sounds a bit like his old Dorsey buddy, PeeWee Erwin.

After Jimmy's death, Lee continued to lead The Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra. (Warren Covington had taken over Tommy's band). Lee spent the rest of his career as leader of Jimmy's band. He did a first rate job and played many of Jimmy's big hits along with some of Tommy's and his own book. The band was a working unit for many years until it became neccesary for Lee to use capable pick-up musicians along with a few key men. He did some recording with the band, but all of the lps are out of print. Included were several for Epic in 1960 and two Pickwick albums in the late 60s playing the music of Burt Baacharach and the Beatles. The last lp by Lee and the band was in 1987 on Atlantic-Dorsey Then and Now with vocalist Carole Taran.(some of these lps are available on Ebay).In 1984 Lee and the band filmed a concert at Disneyland for the Big Bands at Disneyland series. It gives an exellent example of Lee's programs with the J. D. Orch.

After the opening Contrasts played by Lee and lead alto Tino Esno we go into a big band chart of That's a Plenty. Lee's lead and solo work are excellent. He was approaching 70 years of age, but still had good chops-there are a few bad notes here and there,but many great moments.
The band appears to be California pick-up men (we spotted big band veteran Zeke Zarchy in the trumpet section), however they play the charts quite well. An instrumental version of Maria Elena follows (Lee has a nice spot) and there's more fine Castle horn on a more modern chart of Indian Summer (probably from Lee's own book).
Special guest Helen Forrest has two solo sets and Lee conducts her charts. One can see his talent as a conductor here and why he was a key man to the Dorseys. Next up is a Dorseyland Jazz Band version of Indiana (Jimmy had such a dixie group in the late 40s). Lee and a dixieland contingent get in a lively version. Lee's solid chorus has a nice quote from Isham Jones' What's the Use? This is followed by a Hits medley of both Dorseys-Lee had a right to feature Tommy's tunes,also.

Lee is interviewed by host Peter Marshall and he comes across as a personable, humorous gentleman. He talks about his history with the Dorseys,his real name and being taken for sweet bandleader Art Kassell along with using his own library to offset the Dorsey book.
What's New? is a nice showcase for his horn and another more modern chart. Jimmy's big hit So Rare is played well by Esno and we get a pleasant Sinatra-like vocal from Lee himself on All of Me. The show closes with a rousing J.D.'s Boogie featuring several crowd pleasing encores.
This is an exellent concert and perfect example of Lee's talents as a bandleader, trumpeter and host. The Disneyland series was available for a time on VHS, hopefully it will surface soon on DVD.

Much of Lee's Big Band work is available on CD , such as the Joe Haymes, Artie Shaw,Jack Teagarden, Will Bradley and Dorsey sides. The Miff Mole session is still on Jazzology Records. As always ,Amazon and Worlds Records are a good source for this material.
The two Goodman films are available , unfortunately many of the studio and broadcast lps we covered are long out of print. As we find them we will include an Addendum to this post.

Lee continued leading the Jimmy Dorsey Orch. until his health deteriated in the late 80s. He passed on from a heart attack in 1990 in Hollywood, Florida. Lee was survived by his wife, Virginia, 2 sisters and 3 brothers.For a time the band continued with other leaders including clarinetist Henry Cuesta, but has been inactive for some time.
Lee was a very talented musician and bandleader, equally home with traditional jazz and big band swing. We hope this post will bring him more of the regonition he so deserves.

Till next time- Keep Swinging.

Addendum- Since this post, I had a chance to enjoy a re-broadcast of Ray Smith's Jazz Decades radio show. Lee Castle was the subject of the hour and produced these new finds.-
From a 1943 V Disc session with Goodman a driving version of Henderson Stomp with fiery blowing by Lee. A 1950s studio date at RCA produced a lovely ballad feature for Lee's horn on Ellington's Morning Glory. The album and group name was not identified. Finally, a 1956 Dorsey Bros. broadcast from the Statler had Lee blowing great dixieland and a hot rideout on Panama.
More to come.

Recently purchased the 1987 CD of "Dorsey Then and Now" featuring Lee,the Band and British vocalist Carole Taran.(Atlantic Records).
It's a nicely produced and good sounding Big Band album,save for two awful selections.
There's a nice Dorsey Daze medley of Jimmy's hits and several old standards including Star Eyes and I'm Glad there is You featuring Miss Taron's nice vocals and tasty trumpet by Lee.
Several contemporary ballads are played tastefully,but Evil Ways and Dorsey Rap are just terrible.
How Lee got talked into doing the "Rap" tribute to Jimmy.I'll never know! (I can see Jimmy rolling over in his Grave!!!).
Still a nice album for $4 on ebay-just stop at track 8. And it's a nice final testament to Lee's great trumpeting.